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Early childhood education in England has undergone a ‘levelling up’ in the last two decades, according to research from Professor Edward Melhuish, and Dr Julian Gardiner of University of Oxford’s Department of Education.

A study report on nearly 5,000 children, Study of Early Education and Development (SEED): Impact Study on Early Education Use and Child Outcomes up to age seven years, published by the Department of Education, notes, ‘There has been a levelling up in the ECEC [Early Childhood Education and Care] experiences of children across the socio-economic spectrum.’

According to the researchers, there is near universal use of early education, compared with the last century, and an increase in overall quality, ‘So children’s ECEC experiences across the population are now more equivalent…any effects of ECEC differences upon child development are [therefore] likely to be reduced.’

The report states ‘there is less variation in amount, or quality, of ECEC experiences across the population’, concluding that, ‘The situation for children now is substantially better than it was at the end of the twentieth century.’

Comparisons with earlier research indicates quality is generally higher than in previous decades, associated with better child outcomes at age seven, including Key Stage 1 English, Maths and Science.  An early start to formal ECEC, and more of it, is shown to be associated with better outcomes specifically for disadvantaged children – supporting the UK’s policy of free early education for 2-year-olds in the lowest income families

The study found the family environment is also a ‘powerful influence’. According to the report, ‘There were benefits for children from a household with higher socio-economic status, higher income and a household where someone was working.’

The report says, ‘The largest influence on all the child outcomes analysed was mother’s education. Father’s education was also a significant influence on certain child outcomes, even once mother’s education was controlled for.’

The research also indicated, ‘Aspects of parenting such as the home learning environment and warm child-parent relationships had a beneficial impact on academic outcomes, while more ‘permissive parenting’, leading to less structured environments for children, was associated with poorer outcomes.’

This is the latest example of over 40 years’ research by the Professor of Human development and colleagues, which has influenced policy in the UK and overseas and is aimed at improving the lives of millions of children.

For further information about the study, published by the Department of Education, see

Some 87% of UK secondary schools report making substantial changes to history teaching to address issues of diversity, according to research by the universities of Oxford and Reading, based on an Historical Association survey of history teachers.

One of the ‘most encouraging findings’, according to Dr Katharine Burn, one of the report’s authors from Oxford’ Department of Education, ‘Is the evidence that schools are now paying attention to the history of migration to and from Britain and to the diverse experiences of those who settled here.’

The report also cites the most important reasons for making changes to the [key stage 3] curriculum were: ‘a sense of social justice, to better represent the nature of history and the stimulus of recent events.’

Curriculum topics, such as the history of British Empire or the transatlantic slave trade, share equal prominence with teaching of other experiences such as ‘forms of resistance or rebellion by enslaved peoples’ At least 90% of state-maintained schools reported teaching all such dimensions. But the issue of its legacy remains largely unexplored (addressed by only 13% of schools).

Migration and Black and Asian History included

The survey found 72% reported teaching about the history of migration whilst 80% were studying Black and Asian British history.  Most commonly this focused on the post-war period, including the experiences of the ‘Windrush generation’ but a great many schools also now explore the experience and role of black Tudors.

Despite innovation within key stage 3, the current GCSE syllabuses may restrict introduction of diversity into lessons. Respondents overwhelmingly disagreed with the claim that their exam board made it possible to include study of the history of people with disabilities: (88% disagreed), the history of those identified as LGBTQ+ (87% disagreed) or the history of Black and Asian British people (71% disagreed).

According to Dr Burn, ‘If we want to achieve more genuinely inclusive approaches to history teaching, then reform of GCSEs is the most urgent priority’.

TalkTogether is an international collaborative research project examining oral language development in young children in India and the Philippines. It is led by by Dr Sonali Nag at the Department of EducationUniversity of Oxford, alongside colleagues and co-leaders Prof Alis Oancea and Dr Joshua McGrane, both from the Department of Education, and Prof Maggie Snowling from the Department of Experimental Psychology.

Children with a small vocabulary are disadvantaged in all aspects of learning. Without targeted support, children who start slow will continue to fall behind their language-rich peers.

A powerful way to ensure all children are ready for learning, particularly in school, is to offer high quality oral language education early in a child’s life. TalkTogether is using research to inform the development of a range of resources to assist with this.

The 2021 virtual round table event aimed to understand the promise of child-directed print corpora for child language assessment, experimental research, and the development of children’s materials. It also discussed how corpora can support theorising on child language acquisition. Catering to a broad audience, the roundtable considered the usefulness of corpora for researchers, practitioners and their trainers, and curriculum developers.

For the TalkTogether team – comprising The Department of Education at the University of Oxford, the University of the Philippines, The Promise Foundation (India), the Interactive Children’s Literacy Programme (the Philippines) and Georgia State University (USA) – this event was a major showcase of research work conducted over 2020-21. Some 19 talks were given by 28 researchers from 9 countries, representing 10 universities and 1 NGO, and featuring 4 languages: Kannada, Filipino, English, and Malay.

The large audience, which included academics, teachers, NGO workers, curriculum developers and government officials, took part in lively and informative discussions. The open source protocols were of particular interest, and the aim is to encourage more such groups worldwide to replicate the research and use the resources to give a better start to disadvantaged children. Work is also in progress by TalkTogether to produce even more resources that will be available at the end of 2021.

Dr Sonali Nag summarised the emphasis on collaboration saying: “We have prioritised an approach that is multi-disciplinary, multi-method and multi-country. We are firmly committed to encourage local innovations and are sharing protocols to help groups not have to start from scratch.”

For more information and to see the event brochure please visit the TalkTogether website.

Watch the TalkTogether 2021 Corpus Roundtable on YouTube.

Partners and funders of TalkTogether

We are delighted to announce that the Rees Centre has been appointed as the Department for Education’s research partner to deliver the evaluation of two new initiatives in Virtual Schools.

On 16th June, the Government announced more than £16 million for councils to extend the role of Virtual School Heads from September this year, meaning there will be a local champion for children with a social worker in every local authority in England. This will ensure that more focus is placed on children with a social worker, targeting support earlier on in these young people’s lives and helping improve how they engage with education.

A further £3 million in funding has also been confirmed for a new pilot, where Virtual School Heads will support looked-after children and care leavers in post-16 education. Launching in October, the pilot will enable Virtual School Heads to expand their work into further education settings.

Both programmes will build on the existing role of a Virtual School Head, who help champion and improve the educational outcomes for children in or on the edge of care, enhancing relationships between schools, colleges and local authorities so that pupils receive support from professionals that will help them develop and progress throughout their time in education.

The Rees Centre evaluation will help to build an evidence base of what works, which will be used to inform any future support for this cohort, including sharing learning and best practice identified through the Virtual School Head role extension programme and post-16 education pilot with all local authorities across England.  The evaluation will be jointly led by Professor Judy Sebba, Dr Neil Harrison and Dr Nikki Luke.

The Nuffield Foundation has awarded £2.8 million for an ambitious research programme to improve the lives of children and families by better understanding their needs and experiences.

Over the next five years, Professor Leon Feinstein, Director of the Rees Centre at the University of Oxford, will lead this innovative collaboration between local authorities and universities to transform how information about and from children and families is gathered, interpreted and used in child and family social policy at both local and national level.

The project will focus on children and families who need additional support from local authority children’s services, who are often the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in society. For example, this will include children and families referred to children’s social care services; younger children who need help to have a good start at school; and children in care and young people leaving care.

Statistical or ‘administrative’ information about children and families – commonly known as data – can improve practice and policy, but there are gaps and complexities in how this information is used. Other types of information, particularly the views and expertise of children and families, are vitally important. This project aims to ensure children’s and families’ voices, and the views of practitioners, are heard and used to improve practice, services and policy.

The project includes five Local Sites. Greater Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, North Yorkshire and Hampshire local authorities will work with academics from Oxford University, the University of Sussex and London School of Economics and Political Science, University College London and Manchester Metropolitan University to build capacity and understanding about how to better use administrative data, children and families’ voices and information from practitioners to improve services.

Researchers will collaborate with children, young people, parents, carers, professionals and policymakers to understand and shape how information can be used ethically and effectively. Local Sites will also explore how the use of these different types of information can be co-designed with children and families, and how to support sustainable learning and change. The project has not yet been named, as the intention is to include children and families and practitioners in deciding the name.

A series of workshops, webinars and podcasts will share learning with all those working with children and families, including researchers, practitioners and managers, and policymakers. Academic thinking in this field will also be shaped by a range of research outputs. A Learning Network, run by Research in Practice, will bring together 20 local authorities to test out the findings from the five Local Sites and to develop learning materials to support better information use across England.

Tim Gardam, Chief Executive of the Nuffield Foundation, said:

“We established the Nuffield Foundation’s Strategic Fund to encourage ambitious, multi-disciplinary projects that would re-frame the social policy agenda and improve people’s lives.

“This project stood out for its originality and intent to work closely on the ground with local government and practitioners, as well as children and families. It aligns with our focus and priorities across the Foundation’s interests in Education, Welfare and Justice. By transforming the quality and use of information and data by local authorities, this project has real potential to reduce inequalities and improve the lives of the most disadvantaged children and their families.”

Professor Leon Feinstein, Principal Investigator and Director of the Rees Centre at Oxford University, said:

“We are thrilled to be leading a project with such a strong and committed group of local authorities, academics, and leaders in social policy. The Nuffield Foundation has provided us with a tremendous opportunity to bring evidence into policy and practice in a new way and to really support improvement to the lives and experiences of children and families. If we get this right, we can make sure data and information are used for and with people, rather than, as so often is the case, for and by government.”

Further information about this collaboration can be found here.

To stay informed about this project as it develops, contact with the subject header ‘keep in touch’.

The University of Oxford has submitted its response to the public consultation, launched on 5th July 2021, following the publication by the government of the ITT market review report.  We issued a statement on 5th July, expressing our concerns about the report and its recommendations which, if implemented, would have far-reaching consequences for initial teacher education (ITE) in England, including a threat to the future viability of the Oxford Internship Scheme which could not operate under the proposed model.

Read and download the full consultation response from the University of Oxford 

We support the objective of promoting consistently high-quality teacher training, but do not believe that this is the way to achieve such an objective, and have called on the Government to halt the consultation. This would provide an opportunity to engage in genuine dialogue with teacher education providers, including the University of Oxford, to explore alternative ways of promoting high-quality provision. The proposals contained in the review report are fundamentally flawed and risk de-stabilising teacher education in England, with inevitable consequences for teacher supply.

Our response to the consultation makes the following points:

  • The proposed structure:

The development of a national model for ITE provision, centrally controlled, with accredited providers working with ‘lead partners’, will significantly challenge university involvement in ITE. Current university-school partnerships, even those as well-established as the Oxford Internship Scheme, could be ‘squeezed out’ in a model which would make it difficult for established local partnerships to operate. The proposed structure would threaten our current model of collaborative partnership, in which schools and the university work together to design, deliver and evaluate the programme.

  • The ITE curriculum:

The model proposes centralised control over PGCE programme curriculum content with prescriptions as to how the curriculum should be sequenced, how trainees should undertake placements, and minimum requirements for mentors, along with restrictive quality assurance mechanisms to enforce compliance with these requirements. This will have clear implications for partnerships and a resultant reduction in academic freedom in terms of an ITE curriculum which will no longer be designed collaboratively with schools. There is no evidence in the report for many of the curriculum proposals, for example the requirement for 20 days of intensive placements for all trainee teachers.

  • The model of teacher learning:

This is not based on any well-researched model of professional learning, but rather a model of pupil learning, heavily influenced by current interpretations of cognitive science. This is a ‘one-size fits all’ approach which takes no account of local contexts and the needs of local schools. Training under such a model will reduce teacher professionalism and thus pose a risk to teacher retention.

  • The process of re-accreditation:

There is little justification for a costly and time-consuming process of re-accreditation, particularly at the current time given the wider challenges of the pandemic across the whole education sector, and the time scales suggested are unworkable.

The University of Oxford therefore calls for this consultation to be halted so that it can continue:

  • to operate within the principles underpinning the Oxford Internship Scheme
  • to determine (in collaboration with its school partners) its own high-quality curriculum and have the academic freedom to implement that curriculum
  • to operate a programme which is research-informed at all levels and not constrained by adherence to a prescriptive or restricted evidence base
  • to maintain and develop its long-standing partnership with local schools, working in a way that has proven to be effective
  • to respond flexibly to the needs of our school partners as local contexts change and develop



In an article jointly authored by Professors Jo-Anne Baird (Oxford) and Louise Hayward (Glasgow) on the TES website the authors consider the necessity for reform in the context of lessons learned during the pandemic.

The cancellation of exams has led to a new emphasis on the need for effective and standardised moderation and reform that is informed by expertise. However they caution against ‘radical and swift reform’, advising instead an ‘evolutionary approach’ to change.

‘With the disruption of the pandemic comes the opportunity to do things differently, to do things better.’

Dr Neil Harrison, Deputy Director

For some years now, prospective students applying through the UCAS system have been given the option of declaring whether or not they are care-experienced.  Aside from helping statisticians, this self-identification information is passed confidentially to their university when they join to help them to target additional support such as bursaries, accommodation, academic help and mental health interventions.

There has been concern about how effective this system is.  For example, we know informally that some care-experienced students are reluctant to tick the box as they are worried about stigma or that it will negatively impact on their university application.  Some applicants may not realise that they were in care if they were young or if it meant living with relatives in a kinship care arrangement.  Furthermore, not all students enter higher education through the UCAS system.

Anecdotally, there are also some people who tick the box when they are not care-experienced.  These applicants may not understand the question – perhaps think it’s about caring for other people – or tick it by accident.


False positives and false negatives

There are thus two issues.  The ‘false positives’ who say they are care-experienced when they are not; these create a bit of extra work (to do the checking) and are potentially a source of error in statistics.  However, the ‘false negatives’ are more concerning.  These are students who should be entitled to additional support from their university, but who are not getting it because their university doesn’t know they are care-experienced.  It is obviously useful for policy and practice to know how many false positives and negatives there are.

The data that we’ve assembled for one of our projects has enabled us to shine a partial light on the self-identification data.  It doesn’t completely answer the questions as there are significant gaps in the data we have – we will touch on these later.  However, it does give us some useful clues for the first time which we thought it would be useful to share informally.


Exploring the data

We have anonymous data for England relating to the cohort of people born in the 1995/96 school year and who remained in England between 11 and 18 – about half a million in total.  We have been able to link data over time to combine care histories from the age of 8 (when the national data begins) and higher education up to the age of 21.  Therefore, we know (a) whether the student’s university believes them to be care-experienced based on self-identification, and (b) whether they had indeed been in care.

To complicate matters, the university can allocate the student to one of two care-experienced categories.  The definitions for these are very unclear, but we believe they are broadly intended to represent care leavers (meeting the statutory definition) and other care-experienced students.




The table above summarises what we have found, based on the data that were held at the end of the student’s first year.  There isn’t space here to cover everything, but some basic observations:

  1. It’s clear that universities are not collectively using the two care-experienced markers appropriately, with nearly half of care leavers are actually recorded in the ‘wrong’ category. The national data is therefore poor at differentiating between statutory care leavers and other care-experienced students.
  2. However, about 85% of statutory care leavers are being appropriately classified as care-experienced through self-identification. The other 15% are split between those stating that they are not care-experienced (i.e. false negatives) and for whom the data are missing (perhaps due to refusal).
  3. The system is also reasonably good at identifying other students who were in care after the age of 14, with 75% self-identifying, although 17% had stated that they were not care-experienced and 32% have been wrongly classified as statutory care leavers.
  4. However, students who were in care between the ages of 8 and 14 were much less likely to self-identify as care-experienced – only 28% did so, with over half explicitly saying that they were not care-experienced.
  5. The ‘children in need’ group are not care-experienced (having been allocated a social worker, but not entered care), but there was a small proportion (3%) who had self-identified as such (i.e. false positives).
  6. The same was true for the general population. The proportion was very small, but this represented over 500 individuals.  Some of these are undoubtedly false positives, but others may have been in (and left) care before the age of 8, including those adopted from care.


Implications for policy and practice

This small piece of analysis is not intended to be the final word and it is limited in some important ways.  For example, we only have higher education data up to 2016/17 and the situation has almost certainly improved somewhat since then, with markedly more attention on care-experienced students over the last five years.  We also only have data on younger students aged between 18 and 21, so the situation may be different for those entering higher education at a later stage.  However, there are some useful lessons from the data:

  • Firstly, the way in which data is being recorded by universities varies widely and this is likely to be leading to confusion, both in the provision of support and in understanding who is entering higher education.  I am aware that the Office for Students is currently seeking to address this with the Higher Education Statistics Agency, UCAS and universities, which is a very positive step.
  • Secondly, there is clearly some degree of incorrect self-identification – this is likely to be mainly accidental and probably reflects misunderstanding about what constitutes ‘care’ in this context. Nevertheless, this does mean that the self-identification data cannot be taken at face value and does need to be subject to confirmation by universities, creating a small administrative burden to ensure that support is correctly directed at those entitled to it.  This requires universities to have a good understanding of care and a mechanism to enable students to evidence their status as sensitively as possible.
  • Thirdly, a sizable proportion of care-experienced students of various categories are being missed by the self-identification system, especially among those who left care prior to their teenage years.  This suggests that there is much more work to be done to ensure that care-experienced students are aware of the benefits of self-identifying and feel able to do so without stigma.  Clearly, however, they must always have the right to not share this information about themselves if they prefer – or to do so at a later date.

A positive development in recent years is that many universities have broadened out their support – extending out beyond statutory care leavers and removing age thresholds.  This is to be welcomed as it is not just younger care leavers who experience educational disruption and who can benefit from additional help to enter, and thrive within, higher education.  These data suggest, however, that there is still work to be done to reach all those who are entitled to receive it.

The American Educational Research Association (AERA) has announced the selection of 19 exemplary scholars as 2021 AERA Fellows. AERA Fellows are selected on the basis of their distinguished and sustained research achievements.

The 2021 Fellows, listed below, were nominated by their peers, selected by the Fellows Committee, and approved by the AERA Council, the association’s elected governing body. They will be inducted in September during a virtual ceremony. They join 676 current AERA Fellows.

“We are delighted to honor these highly accomplished scholars for their contributions to education research and their commitment to the field,” said AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine. “AERA Fellows demonstrate the highest standards of excellence. We welcome the class of 2021 to these prestigious ranks.”

  • Peter P. Afflerbach, University of Maryland
  • Michael Bastedo, University of Michigan
  • Jerome V. D’Agostino, Ohio State University
  • Amanda L. Datnow, University of California, San Diego
  • Adrienne D. Dixson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Diana H.J.M. Dolmans, Maastricht University
  • Sibel Erduran, University of Oxford
  • Kenneth A. Frank, Michigan State University
  • Jason A. Grissom, Vanderbilt University
  • Stacey J. Lee, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • Kofi Lomotey, Western Carolina University
  • James L. Moore III, Ohio State University
  • Paul L. Morgan, Pennsylvania State University
  • Marjorie Elaine Faulstich Orellana, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Laurence Parker, University of Utah
  • Brian J. Reiser, Northwestern University
  • Jennifer King Rice, University of Maryland
  • Matthias von Davier, Boston College
  • Zhiliang Ying, Columbia University